Overweight/obesity in young adulthood interacts with aspects of EBV infection in MS etiology

Objective

Because obesity affects the cellular immune response to infections, we aimed to investigate whether high body mass index (BMI) in young adulthood and high Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen 1 (EBNA-1) antibody levels interact with regard to MS risk. We also aimed at exploring potential 3-way interactions between BMI at age 20 years, aspects of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection (high EBNA-1 antibody levels and infectious mononucleosis [IM] history, respectively) and the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DRB1*15:01 allele.

Methods

Using Swedish population-based case-control studies (5,460 cases and 7,275 controls), we assessed MS risk in relation to interactions between overweight/obesity at age 20 years, IM history, EBNA-1 levels, and HLA-DRB1*15:01 status by calculating ORs with 95% CIs using logistic regression. Potential interactions were evaluated on the additive scale.

Results

Overweight/obesity, compared with normal weight, interacted significantly with high (>50th percentile) EBNA-1 antibody levels (attributable proportion due to interaction 0.2, 95% CI 0.1–0.4). The strength of the interaction increased with higher category of EBNA-1 antibody levels. Furthermore, 3-way interactions were present between HLA-DRB1*15:01, overweight/obesity at age 20 years, and each aspect of EBV infection.

Conclusions

With regard to MS risk, overweight/obesity in young adulthood acts synergistically with both aspects of EBV infection, predominantly among those with a genetic susceptibility to the disease. The obese state both induces a chronic immune-mediated inflammation and affects the cellular immune response to infections, which may contribute to explain our findings.

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